I want to talk about becoming an author. About publishing a book.
So you’re a writer. You get up early in the morning and you write. You drop the kids off at school and you write instead of doing the hoovering. You commute to work and you write on the bus. You stay up late at night and you write. And your dream is that one day, hopefully very soon, you will see your work published. In a book. A book that you can hold in your hands. If that’s you, I’m talking to you.
If what you dream of is your book being available in ebook format only, I’m not talking to you. Because you know that there are many options now for doing that. And personally I know very little about them, and you too have Google and Twitter. You will find your way.
But back to you, the dreamer, the one who wants to hold the solid block of pages in your hand and see your name on the cover and the printed words inside that you created and pulled together and spun into a story to be told to thousands of readers. You, who wants to be paid for your work, perhaps even for writing to be your actual job. You would like to make a living from it. Yes, well I’m really happy you’re here. Because that’s what I want to talk to you about.
If you are anything like I was, you’d be delighted to hear that somehow there is a shortcut. That agents can see through a first draft of a manuscript to the dazzling novel you know it eventually will be. Or that publishers right now are trawling the electric interweb for rising stars to pull under their wing and lead through the golden doors of literary fame and fortune. Or how the publishing landscape is changing and that now the gatekeepers have left and you are the most powerful person in the publishing supply chain, if only someone could explain to you how that works. You might even be willing to pay for that advice.
Well, my advice – which is free and you take it as it is – is that as far as I know there are no shortcuts, and you are certainly not the centre of the publishing world. Sorry. It’s not you. If I were to go out on a limb and say who I think does occupy that position, thinking about agents, publishers, bookshops, online retailers, authors, editors, and all the others, I would have to say that the most powerful person is likely to be…the reader. Maybe. But in any case it’s not you.
You are the writer, you are the author, you are the person who will create a story, and you will send it out into the world and you will ache with every rejection and bad review (and later you will soar with the offers and the delight of five fat golden stars). Or maybe you have thick skin or pure genius and that won’t happen at all.
But in the meantime I’ll tell you what you *are*. You are a market. Because of that ache for something that is out of your reach, because of your dream of something that is hard to achieve. Because there is something you really, REALLY want. Because of that, there are people out there ready to sell to you.
They are not there to sell you the magic formula, because if they had it, we’d all have it, and we’d all be hitting the jackpot, riding our fat advances to the top of the Sunday Times best-seller list. Oh but wait…
No. But what they are there for is to sell you back your own dreams.
They will tell you there are no guarantees. They will not promise you a publisher, or an advance, or literary prizes. But they will tell you that by buying something off them, a product or a service, you will be doing the right thing, putting yourself in the best position to publish that book, to be that person, the best-selling prize winning author who can give up their day job and set off on tour, gathering movie and foreign language rights as you go. They may throw in a lavish drinks reception or a star studded evening mingling with agents and publishers. Lovely. But the champagne is on you.
Do they have something that is worth your money? It’s your job to work that out. These people are in business. One of the many businesses that are set up to take advantage of the hungry market of aspiring authors. Legitimately. They are not there to take on the establishment, or create a new publishing paradigm, all for one and one for all. They are there to make money. For some that’s all it is, although of course some, often those run by well established writers, also have the very best of intentions and really want to help you succeed.
So if you are thinking of making money from writing, if that’s one of your goals, then before you pay out anything, *anything* to advance your career as a published author, be that writing courses, editorial services, social media publicists, conference fees, subscriptions to writing websites, publishing services or anything that wants your money, take yourself seriously. Make a business plan.
It doesn’t have to be complicated:
1) How much do you expect to earn?
Do you hope to earn a side-income or to give up the day job entirely? Do some research and find out how much an average debut novel earns, and an average second novel. Look into different genres too. Look at self publishing versus the traditional route. Look at advances and royalties and do some maths. Work out the probabilities.
2) How much are you willing to invest?
Do you have money to spend? If so, where is it best spent? Improving your craft; making new contacts; paying to be published, building an author platform on social media or buying a decent desk chair? Taking some paid leave in order to write, perhaps? What would each of those things give back to you and how would they help you to succeed?
I’m not suggesting at all that writing is all about making money. If you’re like most writers you do this because you love it. Because you can’t not tell stories. And sometimes we can buy things that help us along, even if it’s just a copy of Writers’ Forum or a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. But as soon as the question of handing over your money to other people comes up, and you’re tempted, think about it. And whatever you do, don’t become part of someone else’s business plan just because they talk a good talk.
That’s makes them the salesman, and you the punter.